A woman attacked in her Willowbrook home in 2015 is trying to hold responsible the companies that made and sold the lock on the door the assailant broke through to gain entry.
On Aug. 17, Melissa Schuster filed a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against lockmaker Kwikset Corporation, its corporate parent Spectrum Brands, and The Home Depot.
Schuster, then 26, was home alone Aug. 29, 2015, with the Kwikset Lock in place and locked on an exterior entry door. However, Indiana resident Londale Madison gained entry to the home, stabbed Schuster approximately 17 times, including to the face and neck, and then raped her and otherwise assaulted her, according to Schuster’s complaint.
Madison, of South Bend, pleaded guilty in June 2017 to multiple charges in the incident, including attempted first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, home invasion and armed robbery. Criminal prosecutors said Madison approached Schuster while she was loading her car in the driveway around 1:10 p.m. to ask for money. She refused, ran in the house and locked the door before Madison forced entry.
As a result of the attack, Schuster suffered 12 broken bones near her eye, a broken nose and stab wounds in the neck, torso and kidneys, according to media reports at the time.
Spectrum Brands, which bought Kwikset in November 2014, filed Aug. 21 to remove Schuster’s complaint to federal court. The company argued for removal on the grounds of diversity — Spectrum is based in Wisconsin, while Home Depot is based in Georgia — and stated the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Schuster’s complaint also names Madison as a defendant.
According to Schuster’s original complaint, her father, Paul Schuster, bought the Kwikset Signature Series Entry Knob at a Home Depot in Cook County. She said during the attack, the locking bolt and side locking bar components “snapped off” from the lock cylinder as a result of Madison’s bodily force, while all the other door components “remained undamaged and intact” including the door, hinges, plates, frame, jamb, lock plate and screws.
Schuster also said the company knew its locks were defective because other retail customers were returning them for refunds or replacements after they failed in similar manners. The complaint said it was “designed and manufactured with inferior strength components and materials causing it to fail as a residential security and safety device.”
The complaint seeks damages for strict product liability and negligence from the corporate defendants for the design, manufacture and sale of the lock and for assault and battery from Madison. On each count Schuster seeks more than the minimum jurisdictional amount as well as reimbursement for legal fees. Spectrum’s removal motion cited several instances in which plaintiffs in similar circumstances have won verdicts of more than $300,000 and noted one that involved punitive damages of $1.2 million.
Spectrum said Schuster’s allegation the companies were aware of similar failures is an indication she will pursue punitive damages and said that is another reason the complaint is more appropriately heard in federal court.
Representing Schuster in the matter is Lloyd Law Group, Ltd., of Chicago.
Spectrum is represented by the Chicago firm of Tucker Ellis LLP.